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Firms rush to register greenhouse gases early

Companies were urged to beat deadline before state's anti-global warming law took effect.

January 26, 2007|Gary Polakovic | Times Staff Writer

California companies are rushing to voluntarily register their greenhouse gases before the launch of a major statewide program this year to address global warming.

A total of 116 companies registered their emissions with the California Climate Action Registry in December -- more than doubling the number of companies enrolled to 221. Those actions do not yet result in reduced emissions, but they signal that many businesses have begun scrutinizing their operations to function in a world where greenhouse gases are regulated like other pollutants.

Among the enrollees are Xerox, Kodak, Hewlett Packard, Southern California Edison, Dow Chemical, Kaiser Permanente and Ultramar. San Francisco registered its emissions, as did Stanford University and the Los Angeles Community College District.

The late-year rush was triggered by a deadline in California's new anti-global warming law, which gave businesses until Dec. 31 to voluntarily file their emissions and be eligible for credits once regulations kicked in under AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act. The law took effect Jan. 1 and as rules are forthcoming, more businesses are expected to join.

Further, those companies that get a head start will be better positioned to shape debate about the regulations or to gain market advantage for products, such as solar panels, wind turbines or alternative fuels.

"It is a useful exercise for businesses to go through the process of beginning to register and learn their total emissions," said Vince Sollitto, a spokesman for the California Chamber of Commerce, which urged many of its 15,000 members to act last month. "There is a possibility for early action credits," he said.

The obscure climate registry is a nonprofit entity created four years ago to help businesses quantify their greenhouse gas emissions and track changes. Utilizing carbon-based trading markets, companies expect that their early actions to cut emissions will give them some relief once mandatory reductions occur. They might be able to profit from selling a portion of their credits to companies that are hard-pressed to make significant reductions.

The registry "can help facilitate the transition into a world where climate is part of the legal and regulatory environment," said Mary Nichols, director of the Institute of the Environment at UCLA.

"They are very effective at occupying the space between the corporate community that is interested and willing to participate, but is nervous about future regulations and disclosures of information that could have competitive implications," she said. "There's nobody that does all what the registry does."

The registry will play a central role as California air quality officials ramp up the program to reduce emissions that are linked to global warming. Under AB 32, companies must annually report emissions as regulators, led by the California Air Resources Board, set emissions limits to cut the state's greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a 25% reduction.

The state air board will publish a list of early action measures by June, though all the regulations will not become fully effective until 2012. The rules will probably affect a wide range of emitters, including power plants, oil and gas operations and manufacturers, though the specific companies or industry groups have not been identified.

The law targets carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydroflurocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride, gases that are identified in the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement on global warming. Those gases differ from other regulated emissions that are covered in the ongoing effort to cut smog, soot and dust.

California was the first state to launch a comprehensive program to reduce carbon-based emissions. More recently, 31 other states, mainly in the Northeast and Midwest, are developing greenhouse-gas registries like California's. Those programs fill a void in Washington, where the Bush administration has not proposed a strategy to reverse global warming and the U.S. Senate has not ratified the international agreement because it believes that it puts domestic industries at a competitive disadvantage.

The United Kingdom increasingly relies on California's registry to certify emissions for companies. Problems with accurate accounting and allocation of carbon credits plagued a European trading program last year. Amy Exelby, a spokeswoman for the British Consulate in Los Angeles, said that switching to a low-carbon economy was one of 10 strategic priorities for Britain.

The California climate registry "is on the forefront of this issue," Exelby said. "We've been working with them because they are experts on this issue. The UK appreciates the partnership it is forging with California on this issue."

There is scientific consensus that human activity, chiefly fossil-fuel burning since the Industrial Revolution, contributes significantly to global warming.

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